Ireland’s chronic obesity problem needs to be top of our priority list in the formation of a Government

Today, I reiterated my call for urgent action, including education for children in primary school; physical education as part of the curriculum; the introduction of a sugar-tax on soft drinks and measures such as ‘no fry zones’, to be taken to  tackle Ireland’s growing obesity problem.

The findings of a recent study published in the Lancet, which show Irish men have the highest average BMI in Europe and women the third highest, are unfortunately not surprising. It is expected that by 2025 38% of men and 37% of women in Ireland will be obese.

We need to be creative and to think outside the box to tackle this growing problem. The Fine Gael led Government launched Healthy Ireland to improve the health and well-being of the people of Ireland but we are not doing enough. Early education and increased emphasis on activity in schools as well as alternative initiatives like a sugar tax or enforcing ‘no fry zones’ around schools are also needed.

In the last 40 years there has been a dramatic increase in the number of obese people worldwide, increasing from 105 million in 1975 to 641 million in 2014. A study of Irish childhood obesity revealed that children who are obese have an 82% chance of remaining so into adulthood. This is a problem that is not going away. It is getting worse.

A sugar tax, especially on soft drinks, would make a real difference in the battle against obesity. The WHO recommends that adults should consume less than the six teaspoons of sugar a day yet one can of coke, contains approximately eight teaspoons of sugar. The introduction of a sugar tax in Mexico in October 2013 resulted in a 10% decline in sugary drink consumption in the first three months of its implementation. The Minister for Health has supported the idea of a sugar tax and this is something we should act on without delay.

The 2013 planning guidelines state that a local area plan can seek to reduce children’s exposure to the promotion of foods that are high in fat, salt or sugar through the careful consideration of the appropriateness and/or location of fast food outlets in the vicinity of schools and parks. However there has been little adherence to these guidelines. Enforcing these guidelines and implementing a ‘no fry zone’ would make a major difference.

We cannot afford to waste any more time in tacking this issue, the facts are clear and our health service is already struggling to deal with obesity related illnesses including diabetes. Public health must be a top priority in the current negotiations to form a government and whatever government is formed needs to take immediate multi departmental action.

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